1001 MORE Ways to Die in America (part 2)

10 11 2016
huffingtonpost.com

photo from huffingtonpost.com

Recently I addressed the fear that many Americans face that Muslim jihadists may infiltrate our nation posing as refugees and conduct terrorist attacks against us. I argued that although this is possible, living in fear of such an event makes no more sense than living in fear of lightning strikes or of dying from falling out of bed—both of which caused more deaths in America last year than Muslim terrorists did.

But have you ever paused to wonder how your fellow American citizens feel, who happen to be Muslims? Do you think they might also struggle with fear that anti-Muslim vigilantes in America might attack them?

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported an estimated 260 violent attacks against Muslims in America during 2015, the highest total since the months immediately following 9/11. They hypothesized that anti-Muslim political rhetoric was the primary cause in the increase.

CNN writer Daniel Burke summarizes the vicious variety in these attacks in his article, ”The Secret Costs of Islamophobia.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/23/us/islamerica-secret-costs-islamophobia/index.html)

   Muslims have been shot and killed, execution-style, in their living rooms and outside of their mosques. They have been fatally stabbed on their way home. They have been beaten in their stores, in their schools and on the streets. They have been kicked off airplanesegged outside Walmartscorched with hot coffee in a park, shot in cabs and punched while pushing their children in strollers. Their clothes have been set on fire and their children have been bullied. Men have come to their door and told them that they would burn down their house if they did not move away. They have been fired for wearing hijabs and for praying. They have seen their cemeteries vandalized and their Quran desecrated. A Muslim congressman has received death threats, and business owners have posted signs advertising “Muslim-free zones.

   Heavily armed men have protested outside mosques in Texas and Arizona, arguing that it’s their patriotic duty to protect the country from Islam.

   People have covered the doors of a mosque with feces and torn pages of the Quran, left a severed pig’s head outside a mosque, firebombed mosques, urinated on mosques, spray-painted the Star of David and satanic symbols on mosques, carved swastikas and crude drawings of penises into signs at mosques, set fire to mosques, threatened to blow up mosques and kill “you Muslim f****,” fired rounds from high-powered rifles into mosques, wrapped bacon around the door handles of mosques, left hoax bombs and fake grenades at mosques, threatened to decapitate congregants at mosques, sent suspicious substances to mosques, written notes saying, “We hate you,” “We will burn all of you” and “Leave our country” to mosques, rammed a tractor-trailer into a mosque, thrown bricks and stones through the windows of mosques, pelted Muslims with rocks as they left mosques and stood outside mosques shouting, “How many of you Muslims are terrorists?”

This type of behavior breaks my heart! Does it break yours? Every one of those events happened to real people—nurturing fathers, gentle mothers, children wide-eyed with innocence—people just like you and me.

If you think you have something to be afraid of because one Muslim family moved into your neighborhood, how do you think they feel, surrounded by non-Muslims, with no idea who might be a violent, gun-carrying Muslim-hater that might attack them while they’re pushing their baby in a stroller down the sidewalk?

Fear goes both ways. And in 99.999% of the cases, that fear of the unknown can be shattered by walking up and introducing yourself, getting to know your neighbor, and starting a friendship. Every Muslim American needs non-Muslim friends to feel safe. And every Muslim you reach out to in love means one less fear you’ll have to worry about on your checklist.

I challenge you—the next Muslim you see, determine in your heart to approach him or her with a smile and introduce yourself. Ask about their family, work and dreams. Then write me and tell me what happened.

And try to do this before Christmas comes and finds you singing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…”

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Donald Trump Jr, Skittles & Syrian Refugees

28 09 2016

skittlescandypictureLast week Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a picture of a bowl of Skittles with this message:

“If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”

Like many others who protested, I am grieved by the casualness by which someone from a nation at peace can dismiss the horrible sufferings of those fleeing their own nation as victims of terrorism.

The New York Times shares some of the criticism Trump Jr. received after his tweet, including this classic from Binyamin Appelbaum: “Pause to reflect on the fact that this was sent from an iPhone, which was created by [Steve Jobs] the son of a Syrian immigrant.”

Check out the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/us/politics/donald-trump-jr-faces-backlash-after-comparing-syrian-refugees-to-skittles-that-can-kill.html

Not only is it cavalier to compare candy to victims of unspeakable atrocities, the “bowl of Skittles” image makes us feel like there’s a high percent chance that someone in the room eating Skittles will die. But both the vetting process and statistics argue otherwise.

John Oliver explains the incredibly difficult 18-24 month process it usually takes for a Syrian refugee to enter America. Step 1 is applying to the UNHCR which generally rejects 99% of applicants. For the lucky 1%, it’s on to Step 2, applying to the US State Department. This includes security screenings by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, Homeland Security, and then extra screenings specifically for Syrians. There is an interview, fingerprinting and a health screening, and the Director of the FBI has to sign off on every single Syrian refugee! Step 3 is cultural orientation, while continued research goes on in the background to make sure no new information would disqualify the refugee. This is the most thorough vetting of anyone in the world trying to gain refugee status in America.

The statistics also refute the Skittles analogy. If there are 3 poison Skittles in a bowl of 300, that’s 1 in 100. But both the New York Times article and John Oliver point to statistics that say 1 in tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or even more would be more accurate.

Check out John Oliver’s video clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U-t3GetV_Q

If we deny all Syrian refugees out of fear that one will be a terrorist, what kind of uncompassionate, short-sighted protectionism is this? We could be missing out on a Jerry Seinfeld, Paula Abdul, Johnny Manziel, and as previously mentioned, Steve Jobs.

I’d like to offer a better parallel than Skittles—Italian immigrants to America. The power of the mafia peaked in Italy in the early to mid-1900s. They expanded their operations to other countries including the US, bringing crime and death in their wake. What if we had discovered 60-100 years ago that 1 in 250,000 Italian Americans had connections to the mafia? Should we have closed our doors to Italian immigrants as well? Think of all the trouble it would have saved us!

But we didn’t, and I’m so glad we didn’t! Would American history have been the same without Frank Sinatra, Lee Iacocca, Jack Nicholson, Yogi Berra, Madonna, Jay Leno, Quentin Tarantino, Vince Lombardi, Jon Bon Jovi, Robert DeNiro, Mario Cuomo, Dan Marino, Lady Gaga, Mario Puzo, Rachel Ray, Ray Romano, Selena Gomez, Tommy Lasorda, Rudy Giuliani, Hulk Hogan, Henry Mancini, Sylvester Stallone, Harry Caray, Bradley Cooper, Joe Montana, Bruce Springsteen, Wolfgang Puck, Vin Diesel, Ariana Grande, Nancy Pelosi, Kate Hudson, Mario Andretti, Alicia Keys, John Travolta, Jennifer Aniston, Phil Mickelson, Steve Carell, Leonardo DiCaprio, Demi Lovato, the Jacuzzi family, the Jonas brothers, Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, several Nobel Prize winners, plus several thousand more Americans with Italian heritage who are household names? Remove all of them from our history—unimaginable! America wouldn’t be America without them.

Syrians are not Skittles. They are hurting people, victims of the same terrorism we hate. They are also intelligent, skilled, creative human beings who might invent whatever will come after the iPhone. Let’s welcome them with open arms and see how they make our nation of immigrants a richer place.